High winds cause barn fire to rekindle; nearly 60 head of cattle perish

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LEE CENTER — Roughly 60 head of cattle are believed to be lost following the massive barn fire on Hawkins Corners Road in Lee Center Thursday evening.

Fire officials said no people were injured. The state Office of Fire Prevention and Control is expected to investigate the cause of the fire at the Tuthill Farm at 5987 Hawkins Corners Road, just west of Delta Lake.

Approximately 30 heifers survived, according to reports.

“It started as a one barn fire and it spread to a second,” explained Lee Center Fire Chief Joseph Kieffer Friday morning.

The first barn was used to house the cattle, and Kieffer said the fire started somewhere in that first barn. The cause is not yet known. He said the second barn was possibly used for storage. The flames also spread to several nearby silos, burning the silage inside but not causing major damage to the silos themselves.

“A passerby went by and saw the smoke coming from the barn. They turned around and went back, then went up to the front door of the home and started pounding on it,” Kieffer explained. The alarm was raised to 9-1-1 at 5:31 p.m. and at least 10 area fire departments responded.

Kieffer said he was one of the first on the scene.

“Smoke was coming from everything, even the silos,” the chief said. The property owners were already working to get the surviving cattle out of the barn, he stated. The fire did not spread to the residence.

“We went to an exterior attack,” Kieffer explained.

They used water from a nearby hydrant and pumped even more out of a creek down the road. The chief said they never lacked for water. Even the pouring rain helped a bit, he added.

“With something like this, we just want to put as much water on it as possible,” Kieffer stated.

“We had plenty of water once we got going, and we had plenty of help.”

The chief said he declared the fire finally under control by about 10 p.m. He said they rotated crews in and out throughout the firefight to keep the volunteers fresh. Along with multiple hose lines from the ground, both the Rome and Boonville fire departments brought ladder trucks.

“Everything worked like a charm, everybody worked well together,” Kieffer said.

The City of Rome and a local contractor also provided excavators to help dig through the rubble and smoldering hay.

The two barns were made of wood with metal roofs, the chief said. The metal “keeps in the heat” and caused some hindrance, he stated.

The fire spread to the silage inside some nearby silos, the chief noted, and that silage was left to smother itself out. He said the silos have a concrete base and putting water on hot concrete can cause it to break, which may have brought the silos down. “We just had to be careful,” he said, and they kept their eyes on the smoldering silage.

The fire crews finally left the scene by about 4 a.m. Friday, the chief said. Along with assistance from area fire departments and municipalities, the chief said there was a large outpouring of help from local farmers. He said multiple people showed up with cattle wagons to transport the surviving animals to other nearby farms.

On Friday morning, Lee Center was called back to the scene for a rekindle in the debris.“Our concern for today is the high winds,” the chief said on Friday. He said he did not know if the family had insurance.

The Lee Center, Lake Delta, Taberg, Western, McConnellsville, Boonville, West Leyden, Camden, Vienna, Floyd and Rome fire departments responded.

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